The Friends of Fusion
On 17 July 2009, a group called "Friends of Fusion" (Freundeskreis der Fusion) was founded in Greifswald, Germany with the aim of convincing the German government to invest more money into fusion research, and of making fusion known to the wider public. ITER Newsline talked to Günther Hasinger, Director of the Max-Planck Institute for Plasma Research (IPP) in Garching and organizer of the group, to learn more.
Newsline: So far, your group has met twice. Who are the Friends of Fusion and what is the group's purpose?
Hasinger: The idea behind this initiative is to invite a high-level group of industry representatives and academics at least once per year to interesting events and to give them privileged information about the status of fusion research. The members of the "Friends of Fusion" can then act as ambassadors in the social and political environment. The Chairman of the Friends is Hans-Dieter Harig, former CEO of the energy group e.on. Other members are Hermann Requardt, Board member of Siemens, and Ekkehard Schulz, Chairman of ThyssenKrupp. Besides e.on, all the major German energy suppliers are represented: RWE, EnBW, EWE and Vattenfall.
Prior to the foundation of the "Friends of Fusion" last summer, the three German EURATOM associations—IPP and the research facilities in Karlsruhe and Jülich—developed a plan on how to increase support for fusion research in Germany. In their paper, they called for an "Apollo Program" for energy research—i.e., the duplication of the current budget (including fusion research). Our priority would be the accelerated development of a prototype commercial fusion reactor DEMO and the IFMIF materials research facility. In our inaugural meeting, the Friends of Fusion decided to adopt this strategy and to fully support it.
Newsline: Seven months have passed since the inauguration. What has happened since?
Hasinger: The members of the club have successfully carried out their roles as ambassadors. Also, federal elections in Germany resulted in a government coalition that fully supports the development of new technologies. In fact, in the coalition agreement, fusion is mentioned as being one of the key technologies of the future. Already, things are going in the right direction—soon the long-time "cap" that was placed on funding for fusion is to be abolished. Also, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Greifswald on 1 February. Unfortunately, the rising costs of ITER hang above us like the sword of Damocles, so that there is the danger that these gains be offset by cuts in European funding again.
In our last meeting in November, we also discussed a study commissioned by RWE, e.on and Siemens and performed by McKinsey with the participation of the IPP. For this study, McKinsey interviewed a number of experts, visited several fusion labs and conducted modelling. Their study concludes that we have solutions for all the technical challenges of fusion, meaning that no technical show stopper could be identified. However the study does say that the economic aspects of fusion energy still need evaluation. The Friends have therefore committed themselves to do some homework on more detailed system studies and to come up with a clearer picture of the possible energy mix for the second half of this century. Formulating an answer to this question will be the focus of our next meeting.
Newsline: Which will happen when?
Hasinger: The next meeting is scheduled for summer 2010. I am optimistic that we will achieve our long-term goals.
return to Newsline #115